Joining together with your coworkers

So you have a serious complaint about how your employer is acting. You’re rightly angry, but what’s your next move?

Whatever strategy you use to tackle the issues in your workplace, there is one thing you should always remember: don’t go it alone. Any effort to improve your workplace will only be successful if you and your co-workers are organized.

What do we mean by organize? We don’t mean rearranging your closet or discarding possessions that don’t “spark joy.” The Random House dictionary defines the word organize this way:

“to form…a whole consisting of interdependent…parts, especially for united action”

In the workplace, this means uniting your co-workers around common demands and a plan to achieve them. At the heart of this effort is the organizing committee. 

What’s an Organizing Committee? 

If you want to make lasting change at your job, you’ll need a team of co-workers to help make it happen. This group will make sure that the maximum number of coworkers are engaged in the process. They will keep people informed, make sure the employer respects everyone’s rights, and counter the boss’s propaganda. 

A committee recruits other members to join the fight by, for example, asking workers to sign a petition or participate in a press conference. It can mean recruiting others to take action like walking out to force an employer to provide protective equipment, or signing a public letter to the boss demanding they temporarily suspend operations, with pay, until the facility can be properly sanitized and workers can safely return to work. 

The organizing committee votes on important decisions such as determining demands to the employer. If you are selecting spokespersons to talk to the media or communicate demands to the boss, when possible it’s good to vote to empower them to speak on behalf of the group.

Who should be on the team? 

This shouldn’t be an exclusive club. The organizing committee should be open to anyone who wants to put in some work to win the changes you’re fighting for. When recruiting committee members you want to approach people who have the respect of their coworkers, and are likely to focus on what is good for the group and not just their own interests. 

You want to aim to have one organizing committee member for every 10 employees. So if your plant has 200 workers, you’d want around 20 on the committee. An effective committee is representative of the workplace and reflects the different jobs, shifts, departments, languages and backgrounds in your workplace.  If your workplace is majority women or Spanish-speaking you want to make sure that is reflected in the makeup of your committee.

A good organizing committee member is able to understand what might be holding someone back and is able to work them through their fear.  They help remind people why they are fighting in the first place; what they have to gain and what’s at stake if they choose not to take action.

How do you know when you have enough support to move forward? 

When you approach the employer with your demands, you want to do it as a large group – not just a few coworkers. But how will you know when you’re ready? 

Together with your organizing committee, you’ll develop a list of your coworkers broken down by department and shift, keep track of your one-on-one conversations with coworkers, and note who is taking actions like wearing a sticker with a message, signing a card, or a petition. (Read more about how to talk with your coworkers and convince them to take action here.)

Here are the steps to make this happen:

    1. Get a list: One of the first steps to mapping your workplace is to get or create a list of active employees, where they work, their job title and what shift they work. All employers will have some combination of department list, an emergency contact list, a staff directory, Outlook contacts, a seniority or pay roll list. Get a copy.
    2. Create a spreadsheet: Using this Google Sheet, you can develop a contact list for your co-workers, and get them involved. Click on this link, Then click “Make A Copy” and follow the instructions. 
    3. Keep track of your progress: When you have a conversation with someone or when someone participates in an action (like a march on the boss or a sticker day) note that in your spreadsheet. You can use this information to track your progress and determine how and when to move forward. 
    4. Look for the “holes”: Once you have your information entered into your spreadsheet, look for departments or work areas where you haven’t yet talked with anyone, where you don’t yet have organizing committee members, or where no one is participating in your actions. Focus on talking with coworkers in these areas. Remember: this only works if you can get a large group of coworkers to get involved!

Make a map of your workplace

Another helpful tool is to develop a map of your workplace. This is a great group exercise to do along with other members of your organizing committee. You can use this map to understand where you need organizing committee members, where you need to concentrate your focus, even where you might take the most effective action to pressure your boss. 

First, see if there is a map of your workplace available. Sometimes you can take a picture of an emergency exit map. If not, do your best to draw a map of your workplace. Make sure to label each department and work area. Include entrances, break rooms, loading docks and even the parking lot. 

On the map, start listing employees who work in each area. Think about the social groups in each work area, and group your co-workers accordingly. 

Labor Notes has some excellent resources on how to map your workplace here: